Duluth affordable housing advocates praise ‘unprecedented’ recent investments

18 July 2023

DULUTH The excitement was palpable, as representatives of more than 20 local organizations working to improve housing inventories in the Northland gathered at the Central Hillside Community Center on Tuesday morning to bask in the news that Minnesota has set aside more than $1 billion to help bring more projects forward.

“It’s a historic amount of funding that’s been committed, and it has the potential to make a huge difference for our work, most of which happens in Duluth,” said Jeff Corey, executive director of One Roof Community Housing.

“We’re aware that in Duluth, our development costs are as high as anywhere in the state, and our incomes are lower. So, the gaps are bigger,” he said. “If we don’t have more money, we can’t make a tax-credit project work, for example.”

Nancy Cashman, executive director for Center City Housing Corp, said the Legislature has thrown a lifeline to organizations like hers that burned through most of their reserves to keep low-income tenants housed through the pandemic, whether or not they could pay the rent.

“Center City had to support its buildings, and we’ve not recouped those funds. So, the Legislature put together a fund to help those kind of property management companies, because had we not supported these properties with all the available cash we had, folks would have ended up out on the street,” she said.

The details of the program are still in the works, but, Cashman said, “For us, it’s going to be huge, and we’re super excited about it.”

The prospect of gaining access to additional rental assistance funding, came as especially good news to Jill Keppers, executive director of the Duluth Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

“That is really nice for Duluth, because in Duluth our project-based vouchers for our regular Section 8 housing program are almost maxed out,” Keppers said. “So, that will help our local developers One Roof, Center City, the HRA, AICHO and others that are looking to get some rental assistance for their units.”

“We’re very optimistic and very busy writing applications this month,” Corey said.

Corey also pointed to a $100 million First-Generation Down Payment Assistance Program as another “amazing” piece of funding.

“That is largely going to go to folks of color, folks who don’t have a familial history of homeownership. I believe it’s going to be $20,000-$25,000 per household, and that’s going to be such a game-changer for people,” he said.

State Rep. Liz Olson, DFL-Duluth, said it’s “the largest investment we have ever made in housing, and we have made it at every part of what it means to invest in housing, from shelters to first-time homeowners to rental assistance.”

“It really addresses all the needs around housing in ways we have never as a state invested in housing,” the District 8A representative said. “Not only that, we have dedicated ongoing revenue to address housing, which again we have never before done.

“So, this is a really comprehensive package that’s going to have huge implications for our state now but also in the future. I think what we have done is set a bar for investing in housing. And I hope we continue to see it as a priority for years to come.”

District 3 Sen. Grant Hauschild, DFL-Hermantown, said: “I concur with Rep. Olson that this was a multi-faceted approach to housing. We have homeless issues; we have affordable housing issues; and we also have workforce issues, trying to recruit folks to move up to the Northland and to get employers to come here.”

As for the ability of Northland communities to attract funding, Hauschild said: “Sitting around this table today, I really feel confident that we’re well positioned … just given all of the organizations and the infrastructure that we have to go after these dollars.”

Olson agreed.

“We have an incredible coalition in Duluth that is ready to meet people’s needs,” she said. “They need the funds and the ability to access them. But they are ready to roll.”

Hauschild predicts the whole region stands to benefit.

“I would be remiss not to mention the IRRRB’s role,” he said. “They have been convening groups in greater Minnesota and in the Northland for a long time over the past couple of years to try to prepare for these challenges and how we might acquire these dollars. So, beyond Duluth, I feel very confident in the Iron Range and the Taconite Assistance Area acquiring these dollars, as well.”


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